Choreographies of Dissent and the Politics of Public Space in State-of-Emergency Turkey




choreography, social movements, dance and politics, Hannah Arendt, ethnography, women, LGBTQI , assembly, folk dance, Turkey, the Middle East


This article investigates a recent period in which dissenting activism has been shifted in Istanbul under the state of emergency (2016-2018). Based on an ethnography conducted with activists in feminist and LGBTQI+ demonstrations, anti-emergency decree vigils, and the Presidential Referendum protests, the study discusses how activists resist and undermine mobilization of violence through using the hegemonic tools of repression tactically, and choreographically. By employing Hannah Arendt’s concepts of “politics” and “isolation,” I examine that state agencies like the police forcefully disperse protesters and display authority, oppression, and occupation of public spaces by constantly creating an atmosphere of fear and insecurity. In opposition, dissenters practice and rehearse dispersal as a resilient choreography to once again relate each other against the forces of isolation. I suggest the term “tactics of dispersal” to define and analyze how activists depart from the central assembly of the social movement to create smaller, mobile, and ephemeral assemblies. In the city-scale, by scattering themselves in the city of Istanbul and mobilizing peripheries of the urban space, dissenters re-choreograph and subvert a thanatopolitical strategy of dispersal in favor of pluralism under political hardship. In the bodily-scale, activists claim the public sphere through the transience of folk dance. Whenever protesters depart from folk dance collectives to create new ones, they perpetually re-configure the area and initiate novel actions contingent upon their temporal and positional assessments during the dance. Such tactical applications of dispersal characterized by the smaller scale and transitory gatherings with ever-changing combinations of bodies at the peripheral space of urban activism manifest its great potential for collective agency and plural politics.


Author Biography

Sevi Bayraktar, University of California, Los Angeles

Sevi Bayraktar has earned her Ph.D. in Culture and Performance from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2019. She uses ethnography and choreographic analyses to examine the relationship between dance, politics, and gender. Her dissertation explores how women from diverse grassroots movements deploy folk dance as protest in contemporary Turkey. Sevi earned her B.A. in Political Science and M.A. in Sociology from Boğaziçi University, Istanbul. Her monograph and co-edited volumes published in Turkish and recent writings appeared in the Journal ofDance, Movement, and Spiritualitiesand Performance Art in the Public Sphere. Sevi is a professional dancer and dance teacher; and her choreography is inspired by dances of Asia Minor, flamenco, whirling traditions, and the Roma dances in a broad geographical context.   


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How to Cite

Bayraktar, Sevi. 2019. “Choreographies of Dissent and the Politics of Public Space in State-of-Emergency Turkey”. Performance Philosophy 5 (1):90-108.